The Alabama Senate voted 22 to 10 Thursday to allow the use of medical marijuana for certain medical conditions.
The vote on the bill, sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, came after about 5 hours of often intense debate. It goes to the House of Representatives, where it has faced difficulties in the past.
Under Melson’s bill, a person 19 years or older looking to use medical cannabis would need a physician to certify that they have a qualifying condition. Those 18 or younger would need a parent to administer cannabis. The patient would have to apply for a medical cannabis card, which would cost no more than $65.
Qualifying conditions include anxiety, autism, cancer-related illnesses, Crohn’s Disease, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, HIV/AIDS-related nausea or weight loss, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep disorders, Tourette’s Syndrome and conditions causing chronic or intractable pain.
Melson, who has championed the issue in the last two legislative sessions, said during debate on Thursday that his chief concern was allowing patients who might benefit from cannabis to obtain it.
“I will say there’s been a lot of concerns about big money, that this was only a way to get people to make money,” he said. “My whole goal is to get it to patients who need it.”
Smoking, vaping, or consuming baked or infused cannabis products — such as brownies or gummy candies — would be forbidden. Patients could consume the cannabis as a tablet or in oil or glycerin form.
The bill would also set up an Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would oversee patient registries and license medical cannabis facilities in the state.
Sen. David Sessions, R-Grand Bay, said during debate he wanted guarantees that Alabama businesses, particularly farmers, would be first in line to benefit, but said he planned to support it.
“In this day and time with the opioid crisis, I think we need to find alternative medicines that will help people,” he said.
Senators made several amendments to the bill, mostly focused on ensuring that Alabama businesses get priority for business licenses granted by the commission. Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, passed an amendment that would require 20 to 25% of licenses granted by the commission to minority-owned businesses.
Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, offered an amendment to prevent the use of medical cannabis in day care centers, which passed 30-2.
The most outspoken skeptic of the bill on the floor was Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, who expressed skepticism about the efficacy of medical marijuana and said the bill limited the ability of new businesses to get into the business.
“I’m all for Alabama farmers if we have to go down this road,” said Orr, who then referenced George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “But now some animals more equal than others.”
Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, and OB/GYN, objected to what he described as avoiding the standard drug approval process.
“We’re bypassing basically all of that,” he said. “We’re calling something a medicine that as a physician, I can’t write a prescription for it. A pharmacist can’t fill it. A drug store can’t stock it.”
Orr also offered an amendment to drop the maximum daily dosage of THC from 75 mg to 50 mg. The amendment was defeated. The bill was also amended to prevent the commission from adding new covered conditions. The Legislature would have to approve bills expanding that list.
Melson sponsored a similar bill last year which passed the Senate 17 to 9. But it ran into opposition in the House of Representatives and was changed to a medical cannabis study commission. House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, has expressed wariness over the legislation. He was noncommittal about the bill on Thursday, but declined to list specific concerns.
“We’re just in a wait-and-see mode,” McCutcheon said.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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